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Pakistani media outlets attacked for ignoring execution

6th Mar 2016
Pakistani media outlets attacked for ignoring execution

By Aamir Latif

 

KARACHI, (AA): Protesters on Friday attacked the offices of several Pakistani newspapers and television channels to protest the failure of the latter to cover the funeral of a former police commando who was executed earlier this week for killing a governor of Punjab.

In 2011, Mumtaz Qadri, a member of an elite police force, shot Salman Taseer, the then-governor of Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province, in capital Islamabad.

Qadri shot Taseer 28 times after the latter described the country’s blasphemy law as “draconian”.

On Tuesday, Qadri was executed at a high-security prison, triggering protests countrywide, while his funeral in Rawalpindi was attended by some 500,000 people.

Qadri was sentenced to death by an anti-terrorist court in October 2011. Subsequent attempts to appeal the sentence were rejected by higher courts in 2015.

Most Pakistani media outlets, however, especially television channels, entirely ignored Qadri’s funeral and related protests, which were closely covered by the international media.

The lack of local coverage was reportedly due to a directive issued by Pakistan’s media regulatory authority, which believed coverage of the funeral could trigger violence.

Angry mobs on Friday attacked the offices of Aaj TV and Abb Takk TV in Karachi and Faisalabad, while journalists at the Press Club of Hyderabad were beaten and vehicles parked outside were smashed.

In Lahore, too, stick-wielding mobs attacked journalists — injuring several of them — while satellite vans belonging to Express and Dunya TV were destroyed.

Pakistan’s Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), an umbrella group of several media organizations, condemned Friday’s attacks, insisting that journalists were not to blame for state “censorship”.

After Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered strict action to be taken against attackers, police were deployed outside press clubs and the offices of newspapers and television channels around the country.

Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Since 2000, around 100 have been killed — many of them in southwestern Baluchistan province, where separatist rebels criticize media coverage of the conflict.

Blasphemy, meanwhile, is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where in recent years many of those accused of the offence have been lynched by angry mobs — both Muslim and non-Muslim.

Rights groups say the country’s blasphemy law should be annulled, because they say it is often exploited to target religious minorities.

Supporters of the law, however, say it is necessary to prevent people from taking the law into their own hands.

In 2014, a Christian couple was publicly lynched by a mob in Lahore for allegedly making blasphemous remarks against Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Currently, nearly 600 cases of alleged blasphemy are pending in the Pakistani court system, of which over 400 involve Muslims.

 

[Photo: A man attends a funeral ceremony held for Mumtaz Qadri, former police bodyguard who shot dead Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad in 2011 over his opposition to laws that protect Islam, at the Liaqat Bagh Chowk square in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on March 1, 2016. Mumtaz Qadri was executed on February 29 at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi. Photographer: Metin Aktas/AA]

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